Sermon for March 13th, 2022
The Second Sunday in Lent
Jesus is going about doing what he is supposed to be doing. He is casting out demons. He is healing the sick. He is preaching. He is calling people to repentance, to live differently, to adjust their values, and to prepare for God’s kingdom, because God’s kingdom IS coming, and when it does come the world is going to be in for a major sorting out. Jesus has a purpose and a mission. Jesus knows who he is and he knows what he’s about.
It is a powerful thing to know who you are and to know what you are about.
There is a great scene from the TV show Parks and Recreation, where the character Ron Swanson, who is a notorious conservative and a die-hard meat-eater, is sitting in a restaurant looking at the menu and tells the waiter he will have a number 8. The waiter replies:
That is a party platter, Sir. It serves 12 people.
And Ron says: I know what I’m about son!
It’s a great scene, and it is very funny, but it highlights how that character knows who he is and what he is about, even in ridiculous ways. It is a great thing to know what you’re about. It isn’t just funny, it’s powerful. Jesus knows what he’s about.
So when the Pharisees come up to Jesus and tell him that he needs to watch out for Herod and run away, Jesus basically thumbs his nose and says: you go tell Herod this. I have work to do. I am going to be casting out demons and curing people today. I will be casting out demons and curing people tomorrow. I will be casting out demons and curing people three days from now. I am going to do the work that I need to do as long as I need to do it. And when I am done, then I will move on because I know I have other work to do too. Jesus knows what he’s about and he isn’t going to let some petty tyrant keep him from his work and mission. Not even if that tyrant threatens to kill him.
Jesus knows that what he is doing is dangerous and risky, but he also knows that the real danger isn’t Herod, it is what is waiting for him in Jerusalem. The real showdown isn’t between Jesus and some earthly King. It isn’t between Jesus and Herod; it isn’t between Jesus and Pilate; and it isn’t between Jesus and the temple authorities. The real showdown is between Jesus and the devil. Satan, darkness and the power of death…that is the real enemy and ground zero for that fight is going to be on a cross just outside of the gates of Jerusalem. That is where Jesus is headed and he knows it. He wants to go and gather up the children of Jerusalem like a mother hen with her chicks, to protect them from foxes like Herod, but it’s hard, because you know the devil likes to divide us and scatter us and that makes it easier for foxes and other predators to pick us off. It is a hard and dangerous thing that Jesus is about to do, trying to save people, especially saving them from themselves. What should he do? Should he run and hide himself in a cave somewhere until all the Herods have gone? When will that be?
Should Jesus make peace with the devil so that he doesn’t have to go to the cross? It seems to me that if Jesus wanted to make peace with the devil he would have done it last weekend. You know, when we read about Jesus in the desert being tempted. Jesus could have avoided hunger and privation, he could have had ultimate political and financial security, and he could have lived with this fantasy of never getting hurt and never dying. Jesus could have had all those things if he had just listened to the devil and made a deal with him. But he chose not to do that. Making peace with evil was not what Jesus was about.
You know when a lot of people talk about peace, and use the word peace, I think most of the time what they really mean is “not fighting.” Can’t we all just put down our weapons and walk away from conflict? Hey that sounds good to me, I’m not a huge fan of conflict. I like it when people get along, and for that matter I like being comfortable and I like not worrying about people trying to kill me. But is that really peace? Living in a world where nothing is worth fighting for and evil always gets what it wants? It seems to me that if that was the sort of peace Jesus wanted, that when the Pharisees told him that Herod wanted him dead he would have turned tail and headed in the other direction. But Jesus didn’t do that. We call Jesus the Prince of Peace, but I wonder if his peace is a lot different than the peace that politicians often promise us. Jesus said he would give us his peace, but he also said it isn’t peace as the world gives it. Jesus also told us he would bring a sword and division.
People throw the word peace around as if it is some sort of magical incantation or talisman. Peace, peace, peace. We are praying for peace, and we should always pray for peace, and we should always pray for our enemies, but praying for our enemies does not suddenly make them not our enemies. And praying for peace does not mean that some things are not worth fighting for. The war in Europe could end tomorrow if the Ukraine would just give Russian their land, but is that peace? What is the best way to spread peace in the world, by ignoring evil, giving in to it, or by confronting it?
We all know that when Jesus finally rode into Jerusalem and rode his donkey up to the temple mount that he had a few things to say to the money changers there before he drove them out, well many hundreds of years before Jesus another prophet, the prophet Jeremiah had some harsh words for the people in Jerusalem too, especially the prophets and priests. Jeremiah said: “from prophet to priest, everyone deals falsely. They have treated the wound of my people carelessly, saying, ‘peace, peace,’ when there is no peace.”
Another translation of that passage has it: “They offer healing offhand for the wounds of my people, saying ‘all is well, all is well,’ when nothing is well.”
Praying for peace, desiring peace, does not mean that we are called to ignore evil when it is right in front of us. Praying for peace does not mean that we sit back and imagine that it is just going to fall out of the sky, or we nurse some wild fantasy that human beings are going to wake up someday and just start getting along and holding hands and acting completely rationally. Peace doesn’t come from doing nothing. Peace, true peace, comes from knowing who you are and what you are about. Peace doesn’t come from ignoring evil, peace can only really come when it is confronted. Yes, it is dangerous and risky and may involve suffering and even death. Jesus knows about that more than any of us do, but peace is something worth fighting for. Peace is something worth fighting for. We have had relative peace in our country for a long time. But it didn’t just happen to us. It didn’t fall out of the sky. We have had peace because people fought for it. And not just the soldiers on the field, especially them, but also people at home who delt with rations and gas shortages, and welded ships and bought war bonds and the list goes on and on and on. People did whatever they had to do. They made drastic changes to their lives, and they did so quickly, because they understood what was at stake. The struggle for peace involves everyone being able to see the bigger picture, to make sacrifices and do their duty for the common good. The struggle for peace involves knowing who you are and what you are about, and having the courage to stand up for that. Yes, we can and should pray for peace, but there are other things we need to pray for as well: courage, fortitude, strength, determination, wisdom, and an understanding and respect for right and wrong. We need to pray that God will remind us of who we are and what we are about and that we will have the courage to follow where he leads, and confront evil when we are called to do so, because without that we will never have peace, not true peace.
Yes, it would be wonderful if there were no Herods in the world. But there are Herods in the world. And until God’s kingdom is fulfilled and the world gets sorted out by the one true judge, there always will be Herods in the world. We can let them intimidate us with threats of suffering and death, or we can be confident in who we are and what we are about, and get on with being who God has called us to be and doing the work that God has called us to do. That is where true peace comes from.
Before I end, let us turn back to the Psalm for a moment this morning. The psalms always have a word for us, in just about every situation, and today is no different. Let’s say the first four verses together again shall we?
1 The Lord is my light and my salvation;
whom then shall I fear? *
the Lord is the strength of my life;
of whom then shall I be afraid?
2 When evildoers came upon me to eat up my flesh, *
it was they, my foes and my adversaries, who
stumbled and fell.
3 Though an army should encamp against me, *
yet my heart shall not be afraid;
4 And though war should rise up against me, *
yet will I put my trust in him.